Everything You Need To Know To Start Your Zero Waste Journey
When first contemplating the zero waste lifestyle, it can seem like an impossible feat. For men starting on a zero waste journey, the hardest things tend to be toiletries and food items. While this isn’t the same for every guy out there, learning how to reduce waste in those two areas will give you a great idea of how possible it is to drastically reduce your waste all-around. The Men’s Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste will take you through everything you need to know to start and sustain your own zero waste movement.
Starting A Zero Waste Lifestyle
Obviously, zero waste is the goal, but where do you start? How cool would it be to no longer generate any trash? Not only is taking out the trash a dull chore, but just thinking about what happens to that trash can be a jarring experience. If it doesn’t end up taking space in a landfill, chances are it will end up in a river— maybe even an ocean. That’s why getting to zero waste is an accomplishment you can be really proud of.
But the truth is that this takes dedication and time. You don’t go zero waste overnight. Depending on where you live, it may be almost impossible to go fully zero waste. But that doesn’t mean you can’t drastically reduce your waste. You can. No matter where you live.
Zero waste is not an all-or-nothing venture. Every bit of waste you reduce matters. Even if you produce half the trash on your zero waste journey, that’s still saving the landfill from about 700 pounds of trash per year!
So, for many men, it’s best to start small on your zero waste journey. This leads us to step one: developing awareness.
Step 1: Develop Waste Awareness
If you’re reading this article, you obviously have some waste awareness already. How you got here is different for everyone, but the goal is the same: zero waste. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall back into old waste habits, which is why you need to start by developing waste awareness.
Spend a week or two noting what goes into your trash can. There are a couple of different ways you can do this.
Keep a notepad near your trash can and write down what you throw away.
Take a picture of each item you throw away.
Make a mental note of everything you throw away (if you have a good memory).
This will give you an idea of where you need to start on your zero waste journey. While developing your waste awareness, you can start to think about which single-use products you can find as reusable versions. But don’t start replacing all your items at once. In fact, use what you already have for as long as you can. Simply getting into the zero waste mindset by becoming conscious of the waste you generate is a great first step.
Step 2: Research Zero Waste Programs In Your City
Recycling is a big part of the zero waste movement. Even if there is no recycling pick-up in your area, chances are there’s a nearby facility or store that participates in a recycling program. A quick internet search will yield results for your area.
Once you have an idea of what items are accepted for recycling in your area, you can cross-reference them against your list of waste items from the previous step. Then you can start setting those recyclable items aside for a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the recycling facility. Right away you’re reducing your landfill waste.
If you don’t have any recycling programs nearby, don’t despair. You can still practice zero waste in other ways!
Step 3: Remember the R’s
Just about everyone knows the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Even if you just use those three as a guide, you’ll be off to a great start. However, there are a couple more to keep in mind.
Refuse - This doesn’t mean that you need to refuse everything until you’re sitting in an empty room. Just refuse the stuff that you don’t need. Everyone’s definition of ‘need’ is a little different. Simply ask yourself if the item you’re about to buy will add significantly to your life— for more than a few minutes or a few days. Does it fit in with your zero waste goals and the kind of person you want to be? If not, pass on it.
Rot the Rest - After you’ve reduced, reused, recycled, and refused, you can rot the rest. Really this just means you can start your own compost pile for degradable items.
Composting Food Waste
For food waste items that you usually throw into the trash, there’s a simple solution. Create a compost pile. Composting your food scraps is one of the best things you can do to reduce your waste.
Really all you need to do is keep the right mixture of half carbon and half nitrogen in your compost pile or bin. Common carbon items include leaves, paper, and cardboard. Your food scraps will provide nitrogen. Another way to remember this is to think about the essentials: greens, browns, and water. Your compost pile should be moist, not wet, and should not smell like anything but earth.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a backyard— you don’t need one. Your local hardware store should have a composting bin you can use inside. For more information on composting, check out this article.
Step 4: Reusable and Plastic-Free
Whether or not you have recycling programs in your area, it’s a good idea to start finding reusable items that can take the place of single-use items you would either throw away or recycle. After all, recycling takes time and energy. If you find ways to eliminate landfill waste and recycling items, you’ll be doing even more to help the world!
When you’re beginning on your zero waste journey, think plastic-free. As you probably know, most consumer plastics aren’t biodegradable— or if they are, they take a long, long time to do it— and they leave toxins behind as they degrade. So your best bet is to avoid plastics if at all possible. This is easier than you may think, as there are more and more zero waste stores and shops popping up all the time.
But, even better, you can find ways to simply re-use non-plastic items over and over. This not only helps eliminate waste, but it can also save you lots of money!
But remember, you want to start small here and work your way up.
For example, you can stop buying plastic bottles of water and instead use a sports bottle you already have in your cabinet, gathering dust. You can even use a thermos (who says they’re just for hot drinks?).
The same goes for food containers. Buying takeout generates a lot of trash. Whenever you can, it’s a good idea to pack a lunch.
Just taking a few initial steps and thinking about all the plastic single-use items you use can help you get a grasp on what it will take for you to become a zero waste hero.
Once you have the small stuff down, you can move onto the harder stuff, like toiletries and food items.
Step 5: A Zero Waste Bathroom
There are a ton of bathroom items that come in plastic containers and end up in the trash. Things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, and disposable razors all contribute to bathroom waste. Luckily, it’s not hard to find non-plastic and environmentally friendly items to help you get closer to zero waste. Plus, with a little ingenuity, you can make some of your own bathroom items. Here’s how.
Zero Waste Teeth Care
Caring for your teeth while creating little or no waste is actually really easy. Instead of buying plastic toothbrushes that take forever to degrade, you can purchase bamboo toothbrushes, which can be used just as long as a plastic one. Plus, they’re vegan, come in recyclable packaging, and are certified organic and non-toxic.
As for toothpaste, you’ve got tons of options. First off, it’s pretty easy to make your own tooth powder. The simplest recipe calls for
1 tablespoon of baking soda for whitening and fighting plaque
1 tablespoon of bentonite clay to remineralize your teeth, and
1 tablespoon of xylitol as a natural sweetener and a pH balancer.
Mix them all up and store in a glass jar with a lid! For more homemade tooth powder and paste recipes, check out this article.
However, if you don’t want to make your own, you can also purchase natural options, like David’s Natural Toothpaste. This stuff is sustainably sourced in the USA, comes in a recyclable metal tube, and is cruelty-free. Plus, the carton it comes in is made with 100% Wind Energy!
Zero Waste Deodorant
You wouldn’t think that deodorant would be an easy thing to make in a zero waste fashion. After all, don’t all deodorants come in little plastic containers? And wouldn’t they be hard to make at home?
The answer to both these questions is a resounding “No!”. In fact, you can purchase some natural, aluminum-free deodorant here. Or, if you want to make some at home, here’s a simple and fast recipe:
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (melted for easier mixing)
¼ cup baking soda
¼ cup corn starch
7-10 drops of essential oil (many use tea tree oil, but you can use whichever oil smells best to you)
Just mix this stuff up into a thick-ish paste. If it’s too thick, add a little more coconut oil. If it’s too thin, add just a little bit more baking soda and/or cornstarch. Best to store in a glass jar with a lid. Simply apply with your fingers!
Step 6: A Zero Waste Kitchen
Now that we have some men’s bathroom items covered, we can turn to the other room where we tend to have a hard time getting to zero waste: the kitchen.
If you’re just beginning on your zero waste journey, you don’t have to do all of this at once. The idea is to slowly incorporate little zero waste habits into your lifestyle. If you try to do too much all at once, chances are you’ll burn yourself out. It’s the same concept when it comes to getting fit and healthy. You’ve got to build the momentum, slow and steady.
Zero Waste Shopping Habits
Two overarching ways to start eliminating kitchen waste: farmers’ markets and bulk shopping.
Chances are you have at least a farmers’ market near you. Maybe even a bulk food store, too. Bring your reusable shopping bags to the market for fresh produce, eggs, and even stuff like honey.
For the bulk food store, you’ll want to get some different sized jars to store sauces, noodles, flour, sugar, granola, coffee, and a whole host of other things you can find in bulk. You’ll have to get used to weighing your jars at the bulk store before and after you fill them up. This way you can know exactly how much food you bought. You don’t want to be paying for the weight of a jar that you already own!
You can also ask your butcher, deli worker, and baker to package your food in reusable containers that you supply. If they decline to do this, you can ask them to wrap the items in paper instead of plastic. Then, you can put the paper-wrapped items into your containers.
If you decide to buy anything that comes in a plastic container, check for the recycling symbol. It’s also a good idea to know what your local recycling center accepts, as far as numbered plastics.
Men’s Beginner’s Guide To Zero Waste: Conclusion
Now you should have a good idea of what it will take for you to start your zero waste journey. Start small and don’t get down on yourself if you’re not incorporating the habits as quickly as you would like. It’s all about consistency and doing what you can when you can.
Once you start getting into it, you’ll find that drastically reducing your waste isn’t all that hard. There are plenty of options for zero waste items and ideas. It’s a growing movement and there are tons of people that can help spur you on.
Avoid plastics whenever possible, shop at farmers’ markets and bulk stores, compost your food waste, and avoid single-use items. Pretty soon you’ll be living a zero waste lifestyle without even thinking about it!
Written by Matt D.